It’s the time of year – the booze is flowing and the casualties are showing.
Hangovers are the worst. Not only in a headachey-vomiting type of way, but also economically. In the UK the average worker spends 2-3 days hungover on the job and takes 2 days off due to a hangover, costing the UK about £2.8 BILLION per year.
So what causes those hideous hangovers? Can they be cured? Or even better, can they be prevented?
Symptom – Headache
Alcohol causes a suppressed creation of a hormone called vasopressin, without this hormone more water is sent to the bladder leading to less being available throughout the body (Taivainen et al. 1995). As less water is available to your brain its cells shrink, as your brain decreases in size it pulls on the membranes which connect your brain to your skull. Like when someone pulls on your hair…but from the inside.
Alcohol causes the body to drive out 4 times as much liquid as your body has gained (Strauss et al. 1950). So if you drink 500ml of lager, this will cause your body to ultimately expel 2 litres of water. To prevent headaches I’d recommend matching the volume of alcoholic drinks you consume with water.
Avoiding red wine and darker liquors/spirits can also help prevent headaches. Darker alcoholic drinks have high concentrations of something called ‘congeners’ which have been shown to increase the severity of hangover symptoms (Yilkahri et al. 2008).
Rehydration (see prevention!) and painkillers! Aspirin works best as they inhibit the production of something called prostaglandin which has been closely linked to the severity of hangovers (Kaivola et al. 2002).
Alcohol is absorbed through the lining of the stomach which irritates the cell lining. Alcohol also promotes the secretion of hydrochloric acid into the stomach, when this gets to a certain level signals are sent to the brain that the stomach needs to emptied…a one way ticket to vomit street.
Eating a fat-based meal prior to drinking will line the stomach as fatty foods stick to the stomach lining. This will slow the absorption of alcohol which will protect the stomach lining as well as giving the body more time to process its toxins.
Glutamine has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on the lining of the stomach (Ziegler et al. 2000) so supplementing with this could help. Traditional anti-sickness remedies like ginger may be worth a try, but time is the best healer.
Symptom – Tiredness
Interrupted sleep due to glutamine rebound.
Glutamine is an amino acid and alcohol inhibits its production. While you are drinking less glutamine is being produced by your body, once you stop drinking your body attempts to even this out by producing more than normal. As glutamine is a natural stimulant this increased production interrupts your sleep cycle meaning you will not get into the ‘deepest’ and most important sleep cycles.
Although I can’t find any studies to back this up, supplementing with glutamine while you’re drinking or before you go to bed would theoretically prevent a rebound.
Take a nap. Caffeine could help temporarily but normally causes more of a crash when it ultimately wears off, and it’s a diuretic so will not help in your quest for re-hydration.
What would I recommend for a hangover free night out?
1-2 Hours Before;
Eat a substantial fatty meal, for example;
5 egg omelette
1 sweet potato with organic butter
Loads of greens
1 pint of water
Drink a glass of water with every alcoholic drink you have
Avoid the kebabs/pizzas/chips! This will only give your body more to process, let is focus on processing the alcohol!
1 pint of water
1g of vitamin C
5-10g of glutamine (if you have it)
The morning after;
Upon waking – 500 ml of water with 2 x aspirin
1g of vitamin C
Have you ever noticed you feel fine until you eat something? I have. I would highly recommend delaying eating anything substantial until the afternoon or evening. This will give your stomach and digestive system less to do, and therefore more time for rest and repair. If you need to eat have a few eggs and a banana. Keep drinking water and maybe a sports drink. And if you have the luxury of being able to take a nap – do it!